bxr-skills-london-review

What is it?

Located at the (dead swanky) new BXR London gym in Marylebone, Skills is a pay-as-you-go class designed to hone your boxing skills and get you fit along the way. Each day of the week, the class focuses on a different technique, so by the end of it you’ll basically by professional boxer Anthony Joshua (who, incidentally, is on the committee of the new gym).

My experience:

First of all I’d just like to toot my horn and let you all know that I woke up at friggin’ 5.50am to review this class for you guys – YOU’RE WELCOME.

By the time I arrived at 7am, I had just about woken up, which meant I could pay attention while our instructor demonstrated the correct way to punch the bag and move your feet around (amazing how few box-fitness classes actually bother with this).

Once we’d mastered the technique (I use the term ‘mastered’ loosely in my case) it was on to a fast and furious warm-up, involving burpees, press-ups and all manner of exercises that no one in their right mind would do at that hour of the morning.

bxr-skills-london-review

When we were fully sweaty, it was on to the boxing, and, similar to 1Rebel’s class Rumble, this involved slowly building up a sequence of punches until we were, essentially, beating the shit out of our punch bags.

The only slight issue I had was being able to see our instructor at the front of the studio. The nature of the class means there are whopping great punch bags hanging everywhere and – like all trendy workout classes these days – the lights were dimmed, so several times I really couldn’t see what he was doing, and had to rely on copying those around me instead.

 

bxr-skills-london-review

However, in general I would say the instruction was good and there was more focus on technique – for example, how to kick correctly – than I normally get at these type of classes.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the session was when we were told to partner up (always terrifying for awkward people like me) and told to punch each other in the stomach. Yep really, partner one had to stand with their hands above their head and brace their abs while partner two repeatedly punched them in the stomach. This was fine until the instructor decided that my partner wasn’t whacking me hard enough and took it upon himself to beat the crap out of my abs while I stood there like ‘Umm actually, I don’t entirely agree that this is pain-free’.

All in all, a fun and educational class, but probably not one to try while you’re on your period…

Fitness level:

Any fitness level, as long as you don’t mind getting punched.

 I burnt:

300 calories

More info. Classes start at £15.

 

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F45 Tottenham Court Road London

What is it?

F45 is a fitness phenomenon that started in Australia, home of fit people (in every sense of the word). Since launching several years ago it has spread internationally, with the a new UK studio opening in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Imagine circuit training but with trendy studios, tonnes of good equipment and upbeat, knowledgable instructors and you get the idea.

My experience:

There are 27 class ‘programs’ available from F45, but I tried Athletica, which promises to get you leaner, faster and more agile in 45 minutes (all music to my ears).

I was a bit wary when I arrived at the press taster class and saw a couple of huge, muscly male instructors, not because I have a problem with big, muscly men – quite the opposite – but because in my experience that tends to mean ridiculously heavy weights, testosterone-fuelled competition and lots of bootcamp-style shouting in your ear, which is meant to be encouraging but I just find aggravating.

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

Luckily, I was completely wrong. In fact, what struck me most about the class was how welcoming and inclusive it was. Sometimes it’s nice to have an instructor who’s cheers you on rather than screaming in your face, and weights that are challenging but still actually lift-able (if I go to one more class where they assume that EVERYONE can run around swinging two 30kg weights off their arms I will scream).

That’s not to say this isn’t hard work. In small groups of three or four, we moved our way round a series of exercises including kettle bell squats, Russian twists, TRX pull-ups, battle ropes and pushing a weighted sled up and down a track. By the end I was about 85% sweat. But there was a fun, upbeat feel to the class and a good camaraderie among the groups, which helped everyone get through the intense exercise (we did three 20 seconds bursts with a short break in between each, before moving to the next exercise).

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

I’ll be honest, the only not so great aspect of this place is the changing rooms. F45 is not alone in this; the problem with lots of studios that offer classes is that everyone hits the changing room at the same time, which means there’s not enough room for everyone to shower/get dressed/dry their hair at the same time. A warning for shy types: the showers at F45 are pretty open (one girl kept screaming to her friends outside “I can see everyone naked, it’s horrible” while I was also in the shower, which was flattering).

However, changing room gripes aside, I definitely recommend this class – it’s a great way to set yourself up for the day and I never felt like I’d deserved a breakfast more!

F45 Tottenham Court Road London

This is the kettlebell I accidentally swung into my crotch. NOT ADVISABLE.

Fitness level:

Average to good, although it’s a really encouraging class so even if you’re crap someone will help push you on!

I burnt:

510 calories (woohooo!)

 

From £25 per class (7-day trial for £20). More info here.

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What is it?

H.E.A.T. is Virgin Active’s “newest and toughest class yet”, lasting 60 minutes and combining sessions on the SkillMill (similar to the treadmill, except powered by your feet) with resistance training and intense cardio on the floor.

My experience:

Having already tried out Gymbox’s “toughest ever class” Flatline, I was looking forward to seeing how Virgin Active’s killer session measured up.

The first piece of equipment I was introduced to was a harness attached to the wall by an elasticated rope. The idea is you strap it around your torso and then run/crawl away from the wall, fighting against the resistance of the elasticated band. About the least kinky use ever for a harness, but it definitely works you hard.

virgin-active-heat-review

Another new piece of equipment I encountered was the SkillMill, which is a bit like a curved treadmill but without the “on” button. Instead, the power of your feet is what drives the machine, with the option to whack up the resistance to makes things tougher.

skillmill-virgin-active

Before the class started, I was strapped into a Myzone heart rate monitor – this beamed by heart rate onto a screen on the wall, as well as calories burnt.

If you’re a competitive type, you’ll love this – the information of everyone in the class is displayed on the wall, so you can see who’s heart rate is in the ‘red zone’ (which I believe is around 90% of your maximum heart rate).

virgin active heat review

As a class we were split into two groups, alternating between the SkillMill and floor work. I started off on the SkillMill. This bit of kit takes a bit of time to get used to – at the start I was worried I was going to fly off the back – but once you get used to it, it’s great.

We alternated between walking, sprints and high resistance training, where you lean forward on the SkillMill and power through with your legs (see below). It was tough, but in a good way!

skillmill virgin active

My favourite bit was definitely the sprints – I feel like I know where I am with a sprint and it’s one way I’m guaranteed to get my heart rate up into that fat-burning ‘red zone’.

Once I was on the floor work, I found it a bit trickier to get my heart rate as high, which was a bit frustrating as I felt like I was working my arse off! The floor work included bear crawls, kettlebell squats, battle ropes, lunges and of course, plenty of work with that harness, providing a real full body workout.

I was very impressed with the range of equipment available (I tried the class at Virgin Active’s swanky new Mansion House gym) and think the class definitely lived up to its goal of increasing cardiovascular endurance and all round strength.

At the end of the class my heart rate monitor told me I’d burnt off over 500 calories, which is not bad going for someone of my weight (some of the bigger blokes burnt off 1,000 – oh the things I would eat if that was me!)

I’d definitely go again, although first of all I need to work on my press-up game – seriously, what is this?!!?!

Fitness level: 

At least a moderate level of fitness, in my opinion.

I burnt:

500 calories

More info here.

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fitness first SHRED

What is it? 

This new Fitness First class promises to burn fat and build muscle with a combination of compound lifting and HIIT training.

My experience: 

As someone who has the muscle strength of a flea and needs to change that, Fitness First’s new SHRED class sounded right up my street.

Firstly, it’s upbeat – I tried the class on a dreary Monday morning, but the loud music and fast pace quickly got everyone smiling and in the mood to push themselves. It probably helped that, since the class was laid on for press, Instagram sensation Zanna Van Dijk was also there, and she was brilliant at encouraging and pushing us as we worked through a series of exercise.

The idea of SHRED is that you alternate quick HIIT sessions – such as jumping up and down from a step or high knees runs – with weights. Given my limited upper body strength I kept the kgs on my bar fairly light, but I could still really feel I was working my muscles, and while some classes (I’m looking at you, Flatline) are all about lifting as much as you can regardless of technique, there was a lot more focus on doing it ‘properly’ at SHRED.

fitness first SHRED

In fact, I’d say it’s ideal for people like me who aren’t thrilled at the prospect of hanging out in the weights section of the gym but still want to incorporate some weight-lifting into their routine. Plus, the stuff you learn here will probably make you more confident when you do hit the gym floor!

The toughest bit of the session was the challenge they gave us at the end. We had to pair up and, while one partner did squats with the bar, the other had to do a standing sit against the wall, before switching. The challenge was how many squats each pair could do in five minutes, and by the end, I genuinely thought my legs might fall off.

fitness first SHRED

I even tried to claim to Zanna, who told me to squat deeper, that I was ‘too tall’ to go any lower, before remembering that this excuse would not wash with a gorgeous 6 ft 1 personal trainer. DAMN.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t win the challenge, but I did really enjoy the class, and think I definitely got a bit of booty-shaping out of it!

Fitness level:

Anyone, but in particular I’d say it’s perfect for people who have good cardio fitness but need a bit of guidance with their strength training.

I burnt:

250 calories

More info here.

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The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I bloody love a rooftop bar and restaurant, so when I heard about the launch of The Aviary in Finsbury Square, I decided to go along and check out the view (and food, of course!)

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I went on a Sunday, which is always a weird time of the week to hang out in this part of the City –  I get a bit freaked out by the fact that even the Pret A Mangers are shut (say wuuut?!)

However, The Aviary, located on the 10th floor of the Montcalm Royal London House Hotel, has a nice welcoming, cosy feel, with glamorous gold and cream interiors, plush seats and a glistening bar at the centre of the restaurant.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
The terrace is also pretty special – although we were there on a freezing cold day, I can just imagine how glorious it would be sitting there enjoying cocktails with friends on a Summer’s evening.

As for the food, I was definitely impressed. The number of veggie options wasn’t vast but the food was delicious; I went for the Ricotta Gnocchi with squash, turnips, salsify and sprout leaves, which combined the most wonderful flavours with a satisfying stodginess (although, being greedy, I could’ve done with a bit more!)

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop vegetarian
Sam, my boyfriend(well fiance, but I can’t get used to saying that), went for the Sirloin Steak, which, according to the menu came from a ‘retired dairy cow’. Being a vegetarian this obviously made me a bit mournful for the poor cow who spent a life being milked only to end up on Sam’s dinner plate, but he assured me that the GINORMOUS steak was very good indeed.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
Oh and after nicking all his triple cooked chips I can confirm they were scrumptious as well.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
We ended our meal with dessert – sticky toffee pudding for me (perfectly good) and After Eight arctic roll for Sam. The latter is definitely worth a try, especially if like me you’ve always dismissed arctic roll as a bit crap; not so with this gorgeous pud, which I can foresee will be a bit of a signature dish for this place.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop after eight arctic roll
The staff were very nice – hardly surprising given it was the restaurant’s first week open – and the atmosphere was  peaceful, which may also have something to do with the fact not many people know about this restaurant yet.

The Aviary restaurant London rooftop
I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a whole lot busier on weekends going forward, particularly when they start offering roasts. If you’re looking for lunch or dinner with a view, then definitely swoop on in to The Aviary.

More info on The Aviary here.